Best Theater Supporter 2013 | Gloria Shanstrom | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

As general manager of the Colorado Theatre Guild, Gloria Shanstrom maintains the group's website, stays in touch with companies around the state and administers the annual Henry Awards, among many other tasks. Wearing a second hat, she does publicity for several Colorado companies, providing perhaps the most competent and reliable service around. But her work is about much more than paperwork and administration. Shanstrom networks tirelessly; gives smart, disinterested advice; reaches out to new companies and if necessary helps them polish their image; attends dozens of shows; celebrates happy events with theater people, and grieves with those who've sustained losses. She soothes myriad frayed nerves and calms inflamed egos. Theater in this town would be far poorer without her.

What goes on in the shadows of the Jones Theatre, hidden away on the back side of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, shouldn't be kept a secret: The Jones is home to the ongoing theatrical/performance/improv/crazy madness series Off-Center@The Jones, which produces about four shows each season, some of them ongoing and others a one-shot deal or with a limited run. Yet attending a show here is still a little like being part of a big, wonderful, funny secret, and part of the fun is that Off-Center shows sometimes start or end with a party, with beer and dance music included. Curated by Emily Tarquin and Charlie Miller, the current season of Off-Center has already broken our hearts with Drag Machine and inspired us with the interdisciplinary dance work Audio Kicks; throughout, the returning Cult Following, a live improv show that plays off memorable scenes from the film world, has kept us laughing, with the action continuing on second Thursdays every month through May. Still to come? Sweat: Improv on Bikes, for two days in May. Good thing you still have time to get in shape.

Despite the fact that Joe Biden called transgender rights "the civil-rights issue of our time," standup comedy is still a world crawling with pre-Stonewall bigotry — which makes for some great tension when Jordan Wieleba lays her autobiographical transitioning stories on a mainstream comedy audience. Formerly of locally celebrated punk band Forth Yeer Freshman, Wieleba spent the first five years of her comedy career as a man, publicly becoming a woman both on the stage and in an in-the-works documentary, set for a 2014 release, that will conclude with her reassignment surgery this fall. While Wieleba is frequently seen in Denver's gay-friendly comedy scene, she can also be found in traditional comedy venues, where beer-pong bros may drop a heckle or two at her feet. Yet she has a brilliant resilience, with a graceful routine that somehow makes a polarizing issue universally funny.

Jen Korte has been on the radar of the Denver music scene for some time now, but it was only last year that she introduced us to the Dirty Femmes, her Violent Femmes tribute band. Korte embodies the Femmes' gender-bending songs with a passion and accuracy that could only spring from a devoted fan. The pleasure she gleans from performing each memorable tune is only surpassed by the strident roars delivered by the fanboys and fangirls in the audience, clearly buzzing with delight at hearing their favorite album tracks live. And in a pleasantly bizarre act of postmodern transcendence, last November the band was joined by original Violent Femmes singer Gordon Gano for a pair of shows in Denver, backing up the Dirty Femmes on fiddle and approaching the mic for a song or two.

One fine spring morning, we woke up to find that our beloved Big Blue Bear — Lawrence Argent's "I See What You Mean,"a sculpture of a giant bear peering into the Colorado Convention Center — had taken a big blue dump. It was not the first time our own Ursa Major had been the focus of guerrilla street art (in 2011, the Ladies Fancywork Society attached him to a gigantic blue-yarn ball and chain), but this urban twist on the old adage about a bear shitting in the woods was — how should we say it? — an instance of scatalogical genius, though it left the city in a tizzy about what to do with the perfectly matched papier-mâché turd. As far as we know, the great talent behind the blue poo never came forward, and therefore, the bear pie must have been flushed, as promised, by the city. But the prank left behind at least one enduring message: Denver has a sense of humor.

Ed, Downloaded was a feast for the senses, from James Kronzer's scenery to Brian Tovar's lighting to Tyler Nelson's evocative sound to Charles I. Miller's video design. And director Sam Buntrock had previously won critical acclaim in both London and New York for his stunning and visually sophisticated revival of Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George. But the tech wasn't just about aesthetics: It was entertainment and information in its own right. It interacted with the script and kept your brain alert — contrasting, inferring, making connections. Images lingered afterward of two lovers in a snowy, silver-blue woodland, a woman cutting up oranges, the spare lines of a modern kitchen, rows of bubbling stands topped by glowing boxes that supposedly contained human memories.

Autobiographical one-person plays can be tedious, but when Luciann Lajoie decided to create Date, a piece about her online dating experiences, she avoided narcissism by asking a hundred people for their stories and then intertwining these vignettes with her personal narrative. As a result, the audience in this Denver Center Theatre production at Off-Center@The Jones learned what it's like to brave the world of Internet dating for people of different ages and races, for someone desperately lonely, recently widowed, HIV-positive or just goofing around. Some of Denver's best actors appeared on the videos reading these pieces: Longtime real-life married couple Sallie Diamond and Ed Baierlein played a pair who met happily online; Karen Slack was hilarious as a good Jewish girl looking for a good Jewish guy. It all made for a highly entertaining Date.

While most DJs spend a great deal of time, effort and money pursing their craft — only to learn the biggest lessons through trial and error — Walt White has created a school at which would-be DJs not only get instruction in how to mix and match beats, but can also try out their skills in a live club setting using the same tools as the big-name DJs. Along with that firsthand experience, students get tips and tricks from those who are already in the game. While purists may blanch, the Global DJ Academy offers an affordable alternative to anyone interested in taking this career for a spin.

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